Land Intensive Corporate Activity: The Impact On Women’s Rights

Due to the current sociological climate, and all the discussions surrounding women’s rights that is currently so prevalent within the media, this week I wanted to focus on the impact of businesses upon the rights of women.

Now before I start, I know that sounds like a loose connection, what do businesses have to do with women’s rights? I didn’t really know either, apart from perhaps sexual assault within the workplace. That is until I came across this report from CORE and Womankind.

The report is based off a study conducted by graduate students of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Essex and is an eye-opening read.

The report notes how 70-80% of the world’s small-scale farmers are women, however, these women often have very little control over their land or over business decisions. Their work is ‘often undervalued and unrecognised.’

Another section of the report that caught my eye talked about sugarcane plantation workers in Uganda who would beat women passing by, who are simply just trying to search for food and water.

We have discussed in class that extractive forms of industry are some of the most damaging in terms of human rights, however, the report notes how in Kigyayo, the implementation of oil companies in this area has meant girls have been taken out of school. As the destructive quality of oil mining has meant school closures, children are being forced to travel further in order to receive an education. Many parents are taking their girls out of school, as the long journey puts the child more at risk of harassment and violence. Surely big businesses should be penalised for this destruction? Surely both host and domestic states of these businesses should be held accountable?

One of the main points I took away from this report is that because gender discrimination is so normalised within everyday life, it is extremely difficult to remedy issues caused by gendered inequality. Not just within businesses themselves, but also in terms of policymakers and political leaders. If there are few women within powerful positions, how are we to communicate these issues to figureheads who can implement change, when these gender disparities are so deeply ingrained into everyday life that they become unnoticeable?

The report notes that big businesses are breaking Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11 of International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (The availability of food, water, clothing, medical aid and living conditions.) Because the rights of a voiceless group of people are being infringed, it is extremely easy to ignore.

The report gives an extensive list of recommendations on how to remedy this topic, including: ‘States should ratify and implement all existing regional and international human rights instruments’ and ‘States should adopt mandatory human rights due diligence legislation and develop gender-responsive human rights-based guidelines for corporations on how to conduct their operations.’ Although these recommendations are promising, they are just pure discussion at this point, with no sign of these issues actually being taken seriously by figureheads.

This is by far one of the most thought-provoking topics I have explored so far, it has really shown me how subtle and nuanced some human rights and business issues can be. It has also made me think about just how important the current wave of feminist uprising we are experiencing is, in terms of making gendered human rights progression.

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